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The 10 Best Things to Do in Santa Monica

By Kristin Braswell

May 19, 2021

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If you don't go surfing, did you actually visit Santa Monica?

Photo by Tyler Nix/Unsplash

If you don't go surfing, did you actually visit Santa Monica?

As more people shift to make well-spaced outdoor activities a way of life, Santa Monica offers myriad ways to do so.

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Santa Monica’s scenic 26-mile coastline and sunny year-round weather encourage even the fiercest indoor cat to get outside, no matter when you visit. Just 15 miles from Los Angeles, the beachfront California city is dotted with open-air shopping and dining, farmers’ markets, more than 100 miles of bike lanes, 20 different parks, and a stretch of break that draws surfers of all skill levels.

As more people shift to make well-spaced outdoor activities a way of life, Santa Monica offers myriad ways to do so. Whether you’re looking to relax and listen to the sound of the waves, or ride them on a surfboard, heading to the coast is always a good idea. Here are some of the best things to do in Santa Monica this year:

Santa Monica Picnic Co. pack cheese and charcuterie trays like the picnic pros they are.

Have a private picnic on the beach with Santa Monica Picnic Co.

Santa Monica Picnic Co. will set up everything you need for a coastal picnic, including a basket filled with charcuterie from Andrew’s Cheese Shop, blankets and pillows, mini picnic tables, and special touches like flameless candles, wireless speakers, and a Polaroid camera to record memories. To take the experience up a notch, the company offers add-ons like yoga and surf lessons, or a sound bath meditation so you can get zen by the ocean.

Biking in Venice is a rite of passage.

Take a guided bike tour to Venice, or wheel yourself down “the Strand.”

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Get a three-hour intro to Santa Monica on an electric bike with Pedal or Not. Riders zip past sand and surf, the Santa Monica pier, and head to Venice’s famous Muscle Beach and the canal-lined blocks tucked behind the Venice Boardwalk. An added plus: You’ll receive photographs of the experience in your inbox. For another biking option, grab your own set of wheels and cruise the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, known as “the Strand” to locals. The 22-mile route stretches along the coast from Pacific Palisades to Torrance, so you’ll get scenic glimpses of Southern California cities for free.  

Discover the less-touristed side of century-old Santa Monica Pier with a walking tour.
Unlock Santa Monica Pier’s secrets with a walking tour.

With the Secret Story Tour, you can explore the 111-year history of the Santa Monica Pier, the first concrete pier built on the West Coast; an interactive experience includes hidden clues to unlock untold stories of the area. The digital quest is suitable for all ages and takes about an hour to explore the sun-splashed landmark. Santa Monica Walking Tours also offer a number of themed adventures to discover the area, including a soon-to-be-launched outdoor brunch tour highlighting local spots.

Enjoy your favorite ’80s movie under the stars at Rooftop Cinema Club.

Nostalgia runs deep at Rooftop Cinema Club, where you can watch classics like Labyrinth and The Princess Bride unfold from the front seat of your car at the Drive-In at Santa Monica Airport. (Don’t worry, there’s no longer commercial plane service.) Films are projected onto a 52-foot screen and broadcast through the FM transmitter radio of your car. Pack your own snacks or order goodies like popcorn and candy from a contactless system.

Get a lesson in local history on Black Santa Monica Tours.

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Black Santa Monica Tours and Concierge is headed by Robbie Jones,  a Santa Monica native on a mission to introduce visitors to the ways Black culture had an impact on the community. Her passion is, in part, inspired by her grandmother, who owned property in the city’s Pico community. Jones currently offers a walking tour of Santa Monica’s little-known Black history. Schedule by calling 310-928-5891.

You, too, can walk the walk of these California surfers.

Take a proper Southern California surf lesson.

It doesn’t get more SoCal than an hour on a surfboard. Aqua Surf gives private lessons with surfboards and wetsuits included in the rental, and for those who want more experience under their belt, multi-lesson packages are available. With year-round classes, you’ll go from wobbling to standing to crushing it in no time.

Malibu Creek Park in California is hidden in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Los Angeles by Pacific Coast Highway.

Hike the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area offers coastal hills to explore. The reward? Panoramic views of the Pacific, creeks, and some spots that have had their screen moments. The seven-mile Mishe Mokwa Trail has an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet, with landmarks along the way like Sandstone Peak, the tallest point (at 3,100 feet) in the entire recreation area. For TV lovers, head to the Paramount Ranch, where scenes from M.A.S.H. and Westworld were filmed. Other opportunities here include mountain biking trails and horseback riding. 

A Death Valley Daisey at Esters Wine Shop & Bar

Raise a glass at a woman-owned wine bar.

Get your fix of diverse varietals in the art deco–inspired Esters Wine Shop and Bar, which features a library of international wines, many from small producers, over a 28-page menu. Wine director Kathryn Coker, a Wine Magazine Top 40 over 40 Tastemaker, is the force behind this favorite local hangout, where mini cheese pairings + wine theme happen every Sunday (like a rosé and white collection for Mother’s Day), presented by sommeliers via video for social distancing. 

Taste uber-fresh California produce at a local farmers’ market. 

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Santa Monica’s farmers’ markets provide produce to numerous restaurants throughout Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, you can get a taste firsthand by visiting the sprawling market. Buy some fresh veggies and hummus, then head to the beach to enjoy.

Grab tacos and beers at the city’s sole craft brewery.

Santa Monica Brew Works is the city’s first and only craft brewery. Enjoy one of their seasonal beers or sample the year-round lineup including the Head in the Clouds Juicy IPA. A curated food truck rotation offers fare ranging from tacos to burgers and even lobster rolls depending on the day. Gluten free and veggie options always available. Reservations recommended.

>>Next: Required Eating: The 8 Meals Not to Miss in Santa Monica

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